Keep Dreaming: There’s no place like home

There are moments that transcend boundaries; there are peoples that transcend borders. The Toulouse atrocity is evidence of both.

By
March 29, 2012 16:51
Alain Juppe at Toulouse victims' funerals

Alain Juppe at Toulouse victims' funerals_370. (photo credit: Reuters)

The day after the barbaric murder of four members of Toulouse’s Jewish community, the Anti-Defamation League released a disturbing report on anti-Semitism. The timing may or may not have had something to do with the atrocity, but the data did not, reflecting the findings of a poll actually conducted two months earlier. The bottom line: For far many more gentiles than we would care to admit, the Jews will never be at home in Europe.

We’re not talking about a marginal phenomenon here. The 10 countries the survey covered were Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom, and on the average it found that 31 percent of their populations harbor anti-Semitic sentiments. The actual figures ranged from a relatively low 10% in The Netherlands to a staggering 63% in Hungary. In France, the number was 24%, up from 20% in 2009.

Of course, “Who is an anti-Semite?” is probably no less complex a question than “Who is a Jew?” For its purposes, the ADL decided that it was anyone who agreed with at least three of the following four statements: 1) Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the country they live in, 2) Jews have too much power in the business world, 3) Jews have too much power in international financial markets, and 4) Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust. Interestingly the survey included no attitudinal questions, nor any that dealt with friendship, likability or character. In other words, someone who felt that all of the above categorizations were accurate but still enjoyed the company of Jews would nevertheless be labeled an anti-Semite.

But let’s not quibble over definitions. However one interprets the data, there can be little doubt that a large percentage of Europeans would be happy to be rid of their Jewish compatriots.

Still, one of the declarations the ADL included as an indicator of anti-Semitism deserves special attention in the aftermath of Toulouse. Is it any wonder that 45% of the French population believes its Jewish neighbors to be more attached to the Jewish state than to the French Republic when the victims’ families arranged for their loved ones to be buried in the Promised Land rather than the land that promised them liberté, égalité and fraternité? If I were a non-Jewish Frenchman, I’ve no doubt I would be asking myself if I could honestly expect of these Jews, who prefer to be buried in the land of their forebears after their deaths, to have France’s interests at heart while still alive.

I consider it remarkable, then, that France’s Foreign Minister Alain Juppe chose to participate in the funerals of the victims here in Israel. His doing so not only reflected a subtle acknowledgment of the dual loyalty harbored by at least some of his country’s Jewish citizens, but actually conferred a degree of legitimacy on the phenomenon. He was here, he said, at the request of President Nicolas Sarkozy, in order to “express the French nation’s solidarity with the bereaved families and with the entire Israeli people.”

The statement caused me to reflect on the connection between the French government’s response to this act of terror and the pivotal role it played in securing the release of French citizen and Israeli captive Gilad Schalit. As he was taken hostage while on duty as a soldier of the Jewish state, there can be no doubt as to where his allegiance lay, and thus it would have been entirely understandable had Sarkozy wiped his hands of the affair. That he instead aggressively sought his return attests to an acceptance of the idea of multiple fidelities for the citizens of today’s global village.

BUT WHILE French politicians may have come to accept a large segment of their population living with its feet planted firmly on French soil while its heart beats to another nation’s rhythm, many in Israel continue to find the phenomenon baffling – particularly in light of the constancy of anti-Semitic incidents there. Calls for aliya were quick to come in the aftermath of the Toulouse shooting, with Israel portrayed as a safe haven from the mortal danger in which French Jews find themselves.

Well and good, except that French Jews reject that notion.

“I do not accept the idea that Jews are not safe here [in France],” said Richard Prasquier, president of CRIF, the representative council of France’s Jewish community. “Those politicians in Israel who say there is a need to make aliya now simply do not know our country.”

The statistics are in Prasquier’s favor. Thirteen Jews have been killed in anti-Semitic attacks in his country in the 67 years since the end of World War II. Until two weeks ago, the number stood at nine. Each one, of course, is a tragedy in its own right, but that doesn’t mask the fact that many more French Jews than that have died in Israel as a result of war and terror. To say that it is safer today for a Jew to live in the Jewish state than in France is to mock that reality. Those of us, then, who would like to see an increase in aliya from France had best come up with a better reason for living here than the fear of dying there.

There are many, but I will limit myself to just a few that are seasonal. This is what I would tell them.

SPRING IS in the air. On my way to synagogue this past Shabbat, I notice that the buds have appeared on my fig tree, that wildflowers have taken over the city’s empty lots, and that the garbage dumpsters are overflowing – as sure a sign as any that Passover cleaning has begun in earnest. Special catalogue-length supplements in the weekend papers promote a variety of household products that one can’t possibly do without in getting ready for the holiday. And advertisements for all imaginable consumer goods have taken on a Passover theme as familiar as the Haggada itself. Example: The wise son, where does he shop…?

The particular answer aside, every supermarket and corner grocery is already in the process of being made kosher for the holiday, for here Passover is a communal affair that, rather than setting us apart from our neighbors, colleagues and friends, binds us to them in an almost primordial way. For 90% of the Jews in this country, participating in a Passover Seder is important. And I have no doubt that many of the 10% for whom it is not are nonetheless dragged along to one by somebody for whom it is.

“Don’t move here, then,” I would continue, “because you feel afraid and insecure there, but rather because of the sense of belonging you will feel here that is as obvious as it is inexplicable.” That is something none of us should take for granted.

So next week, when you recite the words “Next year in Jerusalem” at the end of the Seder, pause and think about what they mean for you, wherever you might be. And consider that even in this global village we all inhabit, there’s still no place like home.

The writer is deputy chairman of the World Zionist Organization and a member of The Jewish Agency Executive. The opinions expressed herein are his own.


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